Employees bringing their own gadgets, from smartphones to tablet computers, into the companies they work for and expecting them to function seamlessly with corporate technology systems is proving to be a significant and growing challenge for IT departments.
Warren Johnson, account technology specialist at Microsoft, says IT departments are struggling to figure out how to accommodate the growing range of devices and online ecosystems that employees expect will interoperate with company-managed systems. In many cases it’s creating a security headache for IT directors, he says.
It’s becoming a tricky balancing act for many companies as they try to figure out how to benefit from this “consumerisation of IT”, while at the same time ensuring their systems aren’t compromised and the IT department doesn’t become overloaded because it’s supporting a multitude of nonsanctioned devices and ecosystems.
Employees are also expecting more from IT because they come across business systems online and want the technology function in their organisations to replicate it.
“We don’t see this trend stopping,” Johnson says. “IT has to catch up with what consumers are demanding.”
The question, he says, is whether they can. Though some companies are “really trying” to adopt and adapt to consumer technologies, it can become a “nightmare” to manage all the devices. “Internal developers are asking how they keep up with all the different technologies out there.”
The challenge for many IT departments is it’s often the CEO that is demanding his iPad or other new-fangled device interoperates seamlessly with the corporate backend systems, meaning they don’t have the choice of simply barring their use.
“The executives want the funky stuff. Four years ago they were saying you have to secure and manage everything because it’s too costly for us. Now they’re saying bypass it for me because I want my funky laptop.”
Johnson says embracing IT consumerisation has many benefits — and some employees may shun the idea of working for a company that doesn’t allow them to use their own gadgets for business purposes — but there are also big risks. “What if there is a zero-day attack on a platform you’re not in control of?”
Part of the solution, he says, is for companies like Microsoft to make it easier to develop applications that run across platforms. In Windows 8, the upcoming release of Microsoft’s dominant desktop operating system, developers will be able to write apps in Web-based programming languages and port these to other platforms.
“But it’s hard,” Johnson says. “We get organisations saying that if they allow users to bring in any device, then what sort of apps do they permit? If I can’t secure that device, how do I control which devices can have which apps with which data?”
Of course, not all organisations can allow consumer IT products and services. Johnson says Scotland Yard, by way of example, controls what devices are able to access its systems very tightly to prevent sensitive information from leaking. The organisation is strict about what devices, applications and data its employees may use.
But for many companies, embracing the trend has bigger benefits than trying to fight it, Johnson says.
Ultimately, he says, end-user devices will catch up with standards and allow IT departments to manage them better. “Manufacturers will come up with devices that support data encryption and they’ll be more on par with each other in terms of security and manageability.”
Until then, companies have a very real challenge on their hands: embrace the benefits and assume the risks, or try to move against the trend and face a revolt from users. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
- Top image: Spiegel
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